Tesla and Amazon Founders Clash Over Space Flight Patent

By Joseph Mandour on September 11, 2014

rocket-enginesLos Angeles – Elon Musk’s SpaceX is challenging a patent awarded to Blue Origin, a space venture that is being backed by Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos. Musk’s company has petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to overturn a patent awarded to Blue Origin’s method for landing booster rockets at sea. The company argues that this is not novel in the field of launching and recovering rockets and therefore it does not warrant a patent.


The procedure that is claimed in Blue Origin’s patent was considered “old hat by 2009,” according to one of two challenges that were filed last week by SpaceX. It also cites earlier work by scientists and researchers who previously proposed techniques that are not dissimilar to those outlined in Blue Origin’s patent.  SpaceX contends in its filing that Blue Origin did not originate the idea, pointing to a 1998 publication by scientist Yoshiyuki Ishijima, which talks about a similar system.

This is the latest public clash between the two companies who are both vying for a contract with NASA to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. Recently, the Southern California-based SpaceX launched several unmanned supply missions to the space station. Previously, the companies also fought for a contract to control and operate NASA’s Launch Complex 39A located at the Kennedy Space Center.

The patent application from Blue Origin was filed in June 2010 and outlines a system for launching a rocket from a launch site along the coast and then recovering the booster by landing it vertically on a platform located at sea. This procedure controls the descent with the booster engines.

If this patent is approved, SpaceX may not be able to use the water-landing approach described in Blue Origin’s patent, which might pose challenges for the company.  Blue Origin still has not developed its technology as far as SpaceX, which is already launching satellites for commercial and government clients.

SpaceX beat out Blue Origin to lease a U.S. government launch pad last year.  At the time, Musk dismissed Blue Origin’s progress telling the media that Blue Origin has not even done a suborbital or orbital flight to space.  SpaceX has been running its program so far with completely disposable rockets, but it has also been developing technology for landing boosters.

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Posted in: Patent Registration